A combination of rain, wind, and a timing malfunction limited the opening day of the 10th annual SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas with just Funny Car and Pro Stock getting a single qualifying run in. Bob Bode and Greg Anderson are the provisional leaders.
Things just never really went well for racers, fans, and officials at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Friday. First, rain hit the track shortly before noon, and the ensuing delay pushed the first Professional qualifying session back a couple of hours. Things appeared to be back on track with a full Pro Stock session and a couple of pairs of Funny Cars getting in, but then a gremlin in the timing system that forced NHRA and track officials to remove the existing Tree and replace it with a new one put action on hold again. Then came the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back: Winds that had been howling all day long picked up to a level that made it impossible for cars to run down the track. Only one Top Fuel driver, Arley Langlo, made an attempt before officials were forced to call it a day.
Bode was one of the first Funny Cars to take to the track — he made his run before the Tree malfunctioned and put action on hold for about an hour — and his 4.145 withstood the challenge of the many other competitors who came after him. Bode, who has never qualified No. 1 in his career, had to sweat it out clear to the end because points leader Ron Capps, who was in the final pair, made a valiant run at the top with a 4.148, but in the end Bode’s numbers held up.
“I was way surprised our time held up,” said Bode, a former powerboat racer who has been driving Funny Cars for nine years now. “By the time they got the cars going again and I went back to the radio to listen, there were about four or five pair, and I’m going, ‘Well, the worst I’m going to be is ninth.’ Then, I went, ‘The worst I’m going to be is seventh,’ figuring these guys were going to hit their numbers. Then it got down to the final pair, and we were actually nervous, standing at the radio listening. The nine guys who work on this thing just jumped up and down after that final pair ran because we’ve had a couple of unsuccessful races so they know how hard it is when it runs bad. They were just unbelievably happy when it happened.
“Coming in here, the dream was to maybe be in the top half after the first round or after all four rounds. Standing here being the No. 1 qualifier after the first day is amazing; all the stars lined up for us. We were 16th in Houston, but we had a good tune-up, and we knew we could step it up a little. We didn’t know we’d step it up to where I’d be [No. 1].”
John Force is third behind Bode and Capps with a 4.149. The brothers Pedregon round out the top five with Cruz nabbing the No. 4 spot with a 4.175, followed by brother Tony’s 4.178. Mike Neff holds down the 12th and final provisional spot in the field with a 4.347.
Racers on the outside looking in entering Saturday’s two sessions reads like a who’s who of Funny Car racing with Houston winner Ashley Force Hood, Robert Hight, Del Worsham, Jack Beckman, and Gary Densham all not qualified at this point.
Track temperatures were in the low- to mid-70s and the wind was blowing across the track quite steadily for the lone Pro Stock run today, and that made things very challenging for the factory hot rods. One racer who was able to adapt was Anderson, who continued his strong qualifying performances — he’s qualified in the top three at every event this year — with a 6.718 that led the field. Should Anderson, who qualified No. 1 at the season opener in Pomona, hold on to the top spot, it would be the 71st pole of his career.
“The conditions were tough today,” said Anderson. “The wind is coming across the track, and that’s the worst thing. When they’re coming straight across, when you get to the end of the grandstands out there it can feel like somebody picked the car up and set it over a car length. To be honest with you, I probably got luckier than the rest of them. I don’t know why, but it seemed like the wind slowed down for me. I got lucky on that deal, but that’s a good start for us. I’m not going to say it’s a No. 1 spot yet. Tomorrow’s going to be a great day, and if the wind goes down, the cars are just going to get faster. Hopefully, that will happen, and I can run faster than that.
“I love coming here, and I love racing here,” added Anderson, who has more wins here than any driver in any class (six). “It’s a lot of fun to come here and show off in front of Ken [Black] and his family. On top of that, Summit sponsors the race, so it really can’t get better for me out here. I wish we had six or eight races a year out here instead of two.”
Mike Edwards, a two-time No. 1 starter this year, is second on the sheets with a 6.721, and Anderson’s teammate, Jason Line, holds down the third spot with a 6.725. Performances drop off after that with Greg Stanfield sitting fourth with a 6.749. Rodger Brogdon’s 6.816 is the final time that will transfer over to tomorrow.
Drivers who were unable to crack the top 12 and therefore are outside the field at this point include reigning Pro Stock world champ Jeg Coughlin and perennial title contender Kurt Johnson. Both drivers experienced troubles early in the run and had to abort their efforts.